How do we pay for the reasons we live here?

The Friends of the Homer Library (FHL) has been around for about 35 years.  And yet, our relationship to the City and the library is often misunderstood.  

FHL is a non-profit whose mission is to enhance and provide supplemental support for library programs and services.  We receive no funds from the City of Homer. We employee one part-time coordinator, Mercedes Harness. She is not a city employee, but she does occupy a tiny work area in a corner of the back room at the library. Her duties include administrative support for FHL, grant writing, organizing programs and events such as the Celebration of Lifelong Learning — the usual stuff. She also provides tremendous support to the library director and staff, helping them to develop library programs that they would otherwise simply have no time to pursue.

But that’s just part of the story. Since 2007, FHL has provided almost $200,000 in direct library support, through such things as the Summer Reading Program, the Big Read, technology workshops, one-time equipment purchases like multimedia shelving, garden maintenance, and — until this year when the city switched to natural gas  — propane for the fireplace.

FHL has also been working with the city to improve safety and accessibility to the wooded area between the library parking lot and the Poopdeck Trail, and just recently donated and installed three picnic tables to make this area even more user friendly. Next summer we plan to install a Little Free Library (as we did at Fritz Creek) and story walk along newly developed trails to further extend the library experience.  

Funding for these enhancements comes from FHL memberships, quilt raffles, used book sales, fund raisers, and constantly beating the bushes for grants, sponsors and donations. We are very fortunate to live in a community that believes in and supports its library. That support is also evidenced by the city’s recent survey to gauge popular opinion on tax increases, as well as the relevance and effectiveness of city services.  

Not surprisingly, the Fire Department, Public Works and the Police Department were ranked as the most important. But the library (along with, I might add, city administrative services, parks and community recreation, and nonprofits) was ranked as “critical” — the message being, I believe, that it takes more than fire/police protection and roads to make a community.  

Also telling are library statistics. In 2014 the library checked out 76,701 print books, plus another 53,000 or so magazines, audio books, videos, ebooks and other materials — up 10 percent from 2013. Attendance was up 4 percent at 129,600. This included 3,707 kids and parents enjoying Story Hour and people utilizing 47,229 computer sessions. This past summer 370 kids, teenagers and adults participated in the Summer Reading Program. That overall upward trend is continuing in 2015.

These statistics not only show support, they show that the library is doing its job, which is to (1) promote literacy, beginning at an early age, which study after study shows to be absolutely critical for providing a foundation for future learning; (2) provide access to information, which is one of the cornerstones of a democracy; and (3) support life-long learning, which in these days of globalization and accelerated change is more important than ever.  

All of which begs the question — how do we pay for it?  Not only the library, but all of the services that most of us believe are critical.  Participants in that same city survey, as well as the approximately 100 people attending a town hall meeting, overwhelmingly supported some sort of tax as an additional funding source for the city.  

Of course the devil is in the details. Sales tax on food?  Bed tax? Increase the general sales tax? Raise the sales tax cap? Increase the property tax mill rate? Work with the borough to develop regional service areas? Tough choices, and none of them pleasant.

So what’s the answer? I wish I knew. But I’m open to about anything and I will pay my share. I want to live in a place like — well, like Homer. Which has, among other things, a great library.  

The Friends of the Homer Library are doing their small part.  I think that we as individuals need to do the same.

Marylou Burton has been a proud library card holder for more than 60 years, in farflung places from Spokane, Wash., to Suva, Fiji, to Juneau, Fairbanks and now — Homer. She joined the FHL because she believes that libraries are one of the cornerstones of a democratic society.  She currently serves as the FHL treasurer.

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